The coronavirus pandemic has shown how fundamentally inseparable social justice matters are to health care functionality, delivery, and outcomes.

To explore these issues, Siena’s Spirit of ’68 Committee hosted the virtual panel discussion “Redefining Inclusivity: How COVID-19 Spotlights Injustice” on March 5. More than 250 community members joined in.  

This event used authentic, personal stories from Siena alumni, faculty and students to further define inclusivity and tokenism in health care and other settings, to understand where the two diverge, and to focus on ways tokenism creates a false sense of inclusivity. It also set the goal to increase awareness of the consequences of tokenism and identify methods of addressing it on campus and beyond. 

Elham Malik ’23, who moderated the panel, explained, “Discrimination, racism, and xenophobia have always existed across sectors, and the COVID-19 public health crisis perpetuated that.

“Educating our future health care workers and administrators will allow for a much-needed culture shift in medicine that will result in sustainable action steps to a more equitable future. We hoped to establish a base level understanding of health care realities in the U.S., and encourage students to check their privileges, acknowledge their biases, and educate their peers.”

Samuel Hearn ’22 and Melissa Cooper ’22 headed up a team of Siena students who organized the entire event.

“Our goals were to bring greater awareness of the impact of education over a lifetime and how an enhanced understanding of social justice issues and responsibility as part of one's education can play a fundamental part in shaping the communities and society students join after college,” said Hearn. “Using the example of the COVID-19 pandemic, we highlighted how a lack of understanding of what true inclusivity is can play a vital part in the creation of considerable health care disparities among vast segments of communities at the local, national, and global levels.”

“The panelists were absolutely amazing and delivered a strong message on the topic of the disparities and injustices in the health care field,” said Cooper. “Listening to my peers, I was reminded again of how important it is to use my voice to amplify the voices of others. I hope that the students, faculty, and administrators who watch this panel event will be as inspired as I am and translate this conversation into concrete action to support our students of color.” 

To access a recording of the event, click here.